Houston took control early after a Ryan Tannehill pass to Anthony Firkser was popped out of the tight end’s hands by a Texans defender just short of the goal line, bouncing straight into the path of Whitney Mercilus who returned it all the way down to the Titans 12. Deshaun Watson would find Kenny Stills in the back of the end zone just two plays later to put the Texans up 7-0. That series produced a 14 point swing in a matter of seconds and ultimately changed the course of the game.
The Titans would give up another touchdown before halftime, but came out strong after the break with back to back long touchdown drives to tie the game. However, momentum shifted back to Houston after the game tying drive with the Texans scoring the next 10 points, and most importantly, draining the clock. By the time the Titans got the ball back they had just 3:26 remaining to score 10 points. They’d quickly march down to get the 7, but a failed onside kick attempt left them getting the ball back with just 18 seconds and the ball on their own 12. A first down sack eliminated any hope that Tennessee might have had of pulling out a miracle.
The loss is brutal on multiple levels. First is the Titans playoff hopes. The loss to Houston means that Tennessee no longer controls their own destiny. They’ll need help to get in no matter what they do. Here are the scenarios that would land the Titans in the playoffs:
- Path #1: Titans beat the Saints and have the Buccaneers beat the Texans in Week 16, then win in Houston to take the AFC South crown.
- Path #2: Bills beat the Steelers tonight. Titans beat the Texans in Week 17. Steelers lose to either the Jets or Ravens. Colts lose one more game.
- Path #3: Titans beat Saints and Texans. Bills lose to Steelers, Patriots, and Jets.
The playoffs are still certainly a possibility — FiveThirtyEight currently has the Titans with a 35% chance or getting in and that number jumps to 53% if the Bills win tonight — but there are going to be some anxious moments ahead.
We will have plenty of time to get into all that, but for now let’s do winners and losers from Texans 24, Titans 21.
A.J. Brown: Winner
This one is easy. Brown stacked up 114 yards on 8 catches with a score to go with it. He often looked unguardable for the Houston secondary, including a 60 yard bomb down the right sideline early in the game. He’s now at 893 yards for the year and needs to average just 54 yards over the next two games to reach 1,000 yards. Only 14 rookie receivers have hit both 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns (Brown’s current total) since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Brown’s emergence as a bonafide star at a position the Titans have struggled to find production from is a serious bright spot from the 2019 season.
Anthony Firkser: Loser
The usually sure-handed Firkser had a brutal mistake in this game. He appeared to be heading into the end zone to put the Titans up 7-0 early on, but Justin Reid’s hit jarred the ball loose right into Mercilus’ arms for a game changing interception.
If you want to take issue with the Titans passing here instead of giving it to Derrick Henry, I get it, but the play call was fine to me. Firkser was open, he just can’t let the ball get popped out here.
Jonnu Smith: Winner
Smith made several big plays in this game, catching all 5 of his targets for 60 yards and added a 57 yard run from the tailback position.
Smith was outstanding today.
Ryan Succop: Loser
Succop had his only field goal attempt blocked, bringing his season long conversion rate to just 1 of 6. The kick was way too low coming out, probably due to the veteran kicker trying to make up for his lack of leg strength on the 45 yard attempt.
Obviously, the Titans ended up losing by a final margin of 3 points. While it’s not fair to assume that everything else plays out the same way if Succop makes that kick, it is fair to say that the Titans have a major kicker problem.
The team worked out former Cowboys kicker Brett Maher last week and Cody Parkey is still available. It’s probably past time to pull the ripcord on Succop. It will be interesting to see if a move is made this week.
Ryan Santoso: Loser
Santoso was brought in to help the Titans get touchbacks — and theoretically to have a shot at long field goals — since Succop’s leg clearly isn’t where it needs to be. Well, today Santoso had three kickoffs and only got a touchback on one of them. Then there was the disaster of an onside kick attempt. It’s tough to recover onside kicks under the new kickoff rules anyway, but Santoso’s kick gave the Titans zero shot.
Jeffery Simmons: Winner
Big Jeff had a huge play in this game when he got a paw on a Deshaun Watson pass in the shadow of the Titans goal line and tipped it up for Jayon Brown to intercept. He was also noticeably disruptive several times throughout the game.
Kenny Vaccaro: Winner
Vaccaro made a great play to pick off Watson on the 1 yard line on the very first drive of the game, reading the quarterback’s eyes and breaking to undercut the route.
Special Teams: Losers
The Titans special teams have helped them win some games this year, but they were bad today. Kalif Raymond couldn’t get anything going in the return game and the Titans gave up a long-ish return to DeAndre Carter.
Then you have whatever the hell that fake punt was. The Texans weren’t even close to fooled and given the fact that the Titans were lining up to punt at Houston’s 37 yard line, it was a too obvious fake situation. If you’re going to throw a contested fade... throw it with Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown, not Brett Kern and Dane Cruikshank.
When you throw in the blocked field goal, it was a bad, bad day for Craig Aukerman’s unit.
Tramaine Brock: Loser
Everyone in the Titans cornerback rotation took their turns getting roasted by DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills, but Brock seemed to get more than his fair share. He also failed to keep contain on Carlos Hyde a couple times in run support. The Titans need Adoree’ Jackson to get well soon.
Harold Landry: Loser
Landry has had a great season, but he and the rest of the Titans pass rush failed to generate much pressure on Watson throughout the day. With the Texans starting a backup right tackle, I expected the Titans edge rushers — particularly Landry — to have more of an impact.
Ryan Tannehill: Winner
Tannehill didn’t go full supernova like he had in recent weeks, but this was still a very good performance overall despite some early accuracy issues. His final stat line was 22 of 36 (61.1%) for 279 yards (7.8 YPA) with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. He also added another touchdown on the ground.
The interception was obviously not on Tannehill and if that play goes the other way, and Firkser scores, it’s another 3 TD game for Tannehill and maybe we are talking about a win.
The Offensive Line: Winner
The Titans ran the ball pretty well in this game, gaining 163 yards on the ground with a 5.8 yard per carry average. They also protected Tannehill well for the most part. The Titans QB was sacked only twice, though one did end the game. Most of the time Tannehill had plenty of time in the pocket, including the touchdown toss to A.J. Brown above where he was able to loiter behind the offensive line for over 5 seconds before finding his receiver.
Derrick Henry: Winner
Henry gutted out a 21-carry, 86-yard (4.1 YPC) performance despite clearly being less than 100%. Hopefully we see him closer to full health next week against the Saints.